For several years, Prof. Alaa Ibrahim (Observatory Director at the Zewail City of Science and Technology) has been taking his students out of the teeming metropolis of Giza and into the deep desert. Their destination, Wadi Al-Hitan National Park, is best known for its amazing fossils of ancient whales that roamed this area some 40 million years ago, when much of Egypt was completely under water. The remoteness of this site also endows the place with night skies that are essentially free of light pollution. For many of Prof. Ibrahim’s students, this venture into the desert was their first opportunity to view planets, constellations, and the Milky Way in a pristine dark sky. With the aid of large portable telescopes that were deployed on-site, they also got to view star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. These combined experiences were in many ways transformative to the students. I hope that you will find their personal reflections (below) as heartwarming and inspiring as I do. – William H. Waller
To planetary scientists, astronomers and astrophysicists, Earth is but one of several known worlds that host a substantial atmosphere and corresponding climate. By comparing these worlds, researchers can gain insights to their atmospheric compositions, current climatic states, and possible evolutionary histories. Through these comparisons, we have learned that warming by greenhouse gases can play a key role in determining a planet or moon’s average temperature at its surface.
Humankind has pondered the idea of life existing beyond our solar system for many generations. Recent discoveries of “earthlike” planets have re-energized these speculations. But what makes Earth perfect for life, and what does that mean for extraterrestrial life? Lucky Planet by David Waltham addresses these questions.
Water has been identified in the most uncanny of places – as vapors in the nebulae that roam our Milky Way Galaxy, as ices in the protoplanetary disks that surround many protostars, and as liquids below the icy crusts of the Jovian moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft imaged geysers of liquid water erupting from the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The liquid form of water is especially important to biotic processes, as it provides an essential solvent for making the sundry hookups and energy transfers that are necessary to life.
Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke and Robert Heinlein are usually counted as the Big Three of science fiction, amongst the most influential writers in the field. They all were early protégés of the legendary John Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction and were the faces of the Golden Age of Science Fiction when technology was supreme and it was clear that we were headed to the stars.